Michigan kids who were jailed: The whole miserable saga, & the simplest solution.

OK, not the whole truth, but the wholest truth I've ever seen in one place in a child custody case, is in the guardian ad litem report (via Michigan international family lawyer Jeanne Hannah; may no longer be online) These GAL reports are generally not made public, but any damage from that is minor compared to what all members of this family have inflicted on themselves for the past five years. 

[UPDATE: The court later did exactly what the GAL report, and this blog post, suggested! Here's the latest:  "Dad in bitter divorce wants mom blocked from contact", Detroit News, 9/9/15]

The GAL report DOES NOT recommend jailing the children. It recommends a far simpler and more direct solution: immediately giving the father visitation with each of them separately, one on one. Supervised, but reluctantly and only to protect the father from accusations. The court in this case has imposed endless shows of governmental force and therapy on these children, who were not impressed by any of it. But in my experience, what really works is placing them directly with the other parent, and in many cases, changing custody permanently. Many children in divorces will go to extremes to do what they think pleases and aligns with the parent who appears to have the power and control. And when that control changes, they can turn on a dime.

Almost every experienced family lawyer has had several cases like this. Something to remember when we are told that the government and society should not care whether a marriage can be saved.

(There has been a lot of very informed discussion on family lawyers' discussion forums, including very prominent leaders in the profession, and they almost all sympathize with the father although they don't support jailing the kids. I "red shirted" this posting while I got permission to quote some of the best comments from the lawyers' listserv. But that effort has languished what with new family law news coming along, and a whole lot of work on an upcoming custody trial, an appeal brief, a book revision and preparing materials for a continuing-ed seminar. I hope to post them in the future the next time this is in the news.)

 Meanwhile, Maryland family lawyer and family law professor Dawn Elaine Bowie, an early local advocate of Collaborative Divorce, makes a similar point, but not exactly the same, in wonderfully brief and to-the point fashion:

Let's All Sit In A Circle, Hold Hands, and Sing KumbayaParental Alienation and Court Involvement

By , Owner and Managing Partner, Maryland Family Law Firm, L.L.C. -- Sep 6, 2015


Study: 50-50 custody far less stressful for kids than sole custody. Here's why, and how to make it work.

"This Divorce Arrangement Stresses Kids Out Most", by Mandy Oaklander in TIME Magazine, summarizes a new study: Based on  national data on almost 150,000 12- and 15-year-olds' psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sad or dizzy; "Kids in nuclear families reported the fewest psychosomatic problems, but the more interesting finding was that students who lived with both of their separated parents reported significantly fewer problems than kids who lived with only one parent."

Study author Malin Bergström, PhD, said: “We think that having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes.”  “It may be difficult to keep up on engaged parenting if you only see your child every second weekend.” Having two parents also tends to double the number of resources a kid is exposed to, including social circles, family and material goods like money. “Only having access to half of that may make children more vulnerable or stressed than having it from both parents, even though they don’t live together.” 

Based on my 20 years of work in divorce and child custody, another major reason also seems obvious to me. All the inconveniences of "shuttling" between two homes, as real and bothersome as they are for many kids, are trivial compared to the disadvantages, pain and insecurity that comes from losing one parent from a fully parental role in the child's life. And when one parent take a lesser role, "he that hath little shall lose what little he hath," as the separated parents' competing employment needs, relocations and new relationships increasingly conflict with, and take priority over, co-parenting.

 That is why I support 50-50 joint custody when it's possible. I don't think it's necessarily the best, most enjoyable, day-to-day arrangement for most children: in our current social arrangements, in the U.S., most mothers "naturally" do more of the parenting and are more attuned to the children's needs. But in my own experience and in the statistics, so many divorces lead to a parent completely disappearing from the child's life, and many more see one parent marginalized, vilified, infantilized, and/or disempowered.  And children perceive that loss of a parent who can actually act as a parent, and of course it causes major stress for them. I think the 50-50 form is probably the most stable because, in it, neither parent assumes they have the unilateral power to make the changes which in turn make it practically necessary to reduce the other parent's role -- such as moving to a different school district or a faraway state.

But I am repelled by anyone who gushes that 50-50 joint custody, or any other custody arrangement, is just wonderful for kids. Any custody arrangement is a poor substitute for an intact family. 

The study is Fifty moves a year: is there an association between joint physical custody and psychosomatic problems in children? (28 Apr 2015) by Malin BergströmEmma FranssonBitte ModinMarie BerlinPer A Gustafsson, and Anders HjernJ Epidemiol Community Health doi:10.1136/jech-2014-205058

But it still takes work. "9 Rules to Make Joint Child Custody Work" by Kate Bayless on parents.com gives really good, tough-minded advice that would have prevented a lot of my clients' problems. Most of it is about how to act when working out a custody agreement, not how to implement it. Excerpts of each of the 9 Rules:

  1. "Badmouthing the ex will be internalized by the child because they are made up of both you and your ex."
  2. The divorce was about you, but custody is about the kids ... not about getting exactly what you want, or even demanding equity at any cost. ... "what is best for the child is not always what feels good for you as a parent."
  3. Be realistic about your own schedule and commitments.
  4. Choose a custody arrangement that accommodates your children's ages, activities, and needs.
  5. A bad spouse doesn't equal a bad parent. Almost always,  "it is unquestionably best for children to have frequent and continuous contact with both parents."
  6. Find a method of communication that works for you and your ex.
  7. Pick your battles. "School choices, vacations, and parenting time are worth the fight. Things like food choices ... are not worth the fight." Save your energy and good will with your ex and the courts for those things that do matter.
  8. Let your children feel heard. But also make the best decision for their well being.
  9. From time to time, review the arrangement and adjust as needed.

Parents who cut other parent out of child's life are losing custody

In some cases, it's pretty simple. The child will still have two parents if one parent gets primary custody, but not if the other parent does. That factor does not outweigh some even more horrible things that sometimes happen to children, but it outweighs most other factors such as which parent and which home does some parenting tasks better, or is what the child is already used-to. 

The Australian judge and lawyers in the story below described such a move as "drastic". But it's not that drastic, in my experience in the U.S. Changing custody requires first, a relevant, material change of circumstances, and then a wide-open evaluation of what's in the child's best interests under current conditions. That should include: what example do the parents set for the children about how to treat other people and what to prioritize? Should the children learn that alienating, vicious, deceptive borderline-personality behavior works to meet one's goals? Is it healthy for a parent to lie to kids about the other parent to manipulate their emotions? And most important of all, is it better to grow up with two parents, or one manipulative, shortsighted, selfish, immature parent?

One big caveat: When there are abuse accusations, the time to diagnose and counteract parental alienation is AFTER investigating and resolving the abuse issue. And alienation, likewise, should be proven before it's punished. Fortunately, in most cases it's obvious and the alienating parent doesn't try hard to hide it, and may even proclaim it.

Judge takes girl away from selfish mum and gives her to dad in custody battle

Subtitle: SELFISH separated parents who try to stop their children having a relationship with their former partners are having the kids taken off them by courts.
Caption: This is a warning that parents need to be child-focused in every parenting decision they make and not self-focused, says family law specialist Deborah Awyzio.

24-hour day care: one of many child-care changes family lawyers, judges should know about

Day care and babysitting have changed a lot in the past few years, and such change is badly needed.  In family law cases I commonly deal with, instead of finding people they (sort of) know, parents find babysitters online, everywhere from Craigslist to agencies that do thorough background checks. Parents work early mornings and evenings, sometimes unexpectely, and on-call services have evolved to fit those needs. Parents also have overnight business travel, sometimes working as consultants at a distant client site for days at a time, flying home sometimes only for weekends. Now there's another new development:

The Rise of Extreme Daycare

BY ALISSA QUART / PHOTOS BY ALICE PROUJANSKY in Pacific Standard: The Science of Spciety

( via photographer and writer Ann Carpenter)


Instinctual parenting creates healthier kids, sturdier attachment, than scientific manipulation


"It’s striking to consider the attachment implications when parental behavior isn’t really about what it seems to be about, but is in service of a whole other agenda. Yet this is exactly what I hear from diverse groups with statements like “I give my child a hug when he does something well because kudos build self-esteem” or “When she bumped herself, once I realized she wasn’t really hurt, I let her cry because she needs to develop grit” or “We’re strict about keeping schedules because rituals instill emotional security.”

"The usurpation of parenting instincts has serious attachment consequences. For one thing, as brain imaging one day will show, kids can tell the difference between authentic, three-dimensional connection and a two-dimensional parental processing that passes for the real thing.

"We live in a culture immersed in emotional dysregulation -- a kind of nonstop, excessively stimulating too-muchness. This is all fine, as long as you have the ego strength and stability to absorb hyperstimulation without being undone by it. But, as we’re learning, people need secure attachment to develop a sturdy sense of self. And this is exactly where the long-term erosion of effective parental hierarchy, and now the diminution of un-self-conscious parenting, create many new shades of pseudo-attachment."

- Excerpts from "The Rise of the Two-Dimensional Parent: Are Therapists Seeing a New Kind of Attachment?" by  in Psychotherapy Networker.

Can Virginia embrace change & describe parenthood in terms of duties, not ownership??

Prominent Northern Virginia collaborative family lawyer Albert Bonin writes in this week's Virginia Lawyers' Weekly:

... Is it time for the Commonwealth of Virginia to get on board?  Instead of relying on the term “custody” when dissolving a marriage, the term “parental responsibilities” would take its place when deciding the circumstances of a parent’s role in family law matters. Eliminating the loaded concept of “custody” allows the parties and their lawyers to focus on concrete consequences of specific actions by parents. ... The compelling force behind changing the law is a desire to remove a sense of ownership associated with the word “custody.”   This change represents an effort to encourage parents to focus on their parenting duties, rather than viewing their children as property that can be “won” or “lost.” ... It is easier for the lay person to understand ... "parenting time" and "decision-making" ....

In many cases, a parent who “loses” custody may become uninvolved with the children, which will often lead to problems with payment of child support and post-decree actions. Without the “win/lose” situation often presented in custody cases, there may be less loss of contact between a parent and a child and fewer problems with child support. The child will benefit by having an involved parent and adequate financial support.

It has been suggested that a change in the law is simply a matter of semantics. The reality, though, is that words are powerful tools, and careful usage can determine whether a divorce will be highly conflicted or more cooperative. Too often, a party gets hung up on the fact that the other parent will have “custody.” ...

More at:

Changing ‘custody’ statutes might change attitudes

Were Powell children's needs obscured by a glut of false or exaggerated child endangerment claims?

Chuck and Judy Cox, whose daughter Susan Powell and her children were murdered by their father, pointed out on the Today Show that child protection agencies  "deal with a lot of people that exaggerate the threat or cry wolf ... we get lumped into the mass of people they have to deal with. But this was such an extraordinary circumstance that we felt they should have taken more care."

Transcript of Today Show, Feb. 7, 2012.